“The (On-Going) Talk” (Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Ages 2 to 5)

This is my third article in a series about talking with your kids about sex. Here are the others:

The reason this series is “The (On-Going) Talk” is because I believe this is not meant to be a one-and-done topic. One mistake I believe we can make, as parents, is to compartmentalize this issue in a way we do with virtually nothing else in life. We get all nervous about it, and don’t talk about it, or relegate it to one “big talk”– something we feel we can only do with a book in hand, or at an official “purity seminar,” or whatever.

Instead, consider:

  • Will you only talk with your kids once about the kinds of foods that they should eat– what’s healthy/what’s not?
  • Should your children only get one formal, nervously-awkward speech from you about how to be a good friend?
  • Do your children only need to hear one warning about being diligent in their work?

No… in all of these areas, you recognize the value of instilling wisdom, over time.

Like these topics, this one — of sex, marriage, babies, and more– should be an ON-GOING conversation.

Over time, you can share with your child the tools they need to enter adulthood with a healthy and biblical understanding of how and why God made their bodies to work as they do. Over time, you will give them the basics, answer their questions, and help fill in or correct places where they misunderstand or lack the big picture. Over time, you develop a trust relationship so that they can come to you when issues arise in their hearts and lives.

And it all begins with the early verbal years– ages 2 to 5.

The (On-Going) Talk // Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Ages 2-5 // jessconnell.com

AGES TWO TO FIVE

This is the time in your child’s life when you can lay the foundation for your child’s future understanding of marriage, family, sex, and their bodies.There are some blessings to it happening at this young age:

  • They are still little.
  • Their understanding of these things is not sexual.
  • The questions they will ask are fairly limited, compared to what the range and depth of topics become when they are preteens and older.
  • There is plenty of time ahead of you to correct misperceptions, or continue building understanding, in things that they misunderstand or misinterpret now.

Remember that all of these conversations happen in an on-going way, so none have to be an “all or nothing” experience. However, just like with other topics of life, some conversations will be more shallow, and some will be more-in-depth. Even though it feels huge (and it is important), this is not something to stress or feel anxiety about… this is a privilege– that YOU get the be the one to frame your child’s understanding of these important subjects! 

First, I’ll deal with a common objection — “do we really have to?” I believe this question derives primarily from uncertainty and discomfort (often because we ourselves were ill-informed & ill-equipped in these things). After that, I’ll dive in and address the general things that I believe are good to address with kids from age 2-5.

DO WE REALLY HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS?

Yes, I believe it’s biblical and right… and also:

THIS IS NOT 1875.

Unlike the silence of previous generations on this topic, I do not believe it is healthy, biblical or wise to keep our children in the dark, or “protect” them from reality, as long as possible. In fact, by delaying this discussion, you are virtually assuring that they will get worldly information, wrong information, or flat-out wicked information, from some other source.

Honestly, though? Part of me wishes I could avoid it. I wish I didn’t have to warn my children about the risks of sexual abuse. I wish I didn’t have to talk with my preteens about pornography. But these are not realistic wishes in the day and age in which God put me.

Gone are the days when we can ignore difficult realities. Gone are the days when your American son’s greatest sexual challenge was the flirting of a prostitute on the biannual trip into town on the buckboard wagon. Gone are the days where America’s children grew up on farms, figured out the basics of how babies are made that way, and went into adulthood successfully married to their Christian friend down the road without any major ethical dilemmas in the sexual realm. Gone are the days when elicit content was tucked away in some less-visited part of town that had the “decency” to cover it all up with dark windows and paper bags.

[As a side note, it helps me to remember that this is also not A.D. 75. Having walked the streets of Ephesus with my children in 2010, I realize that if I was a mom in the early church, I would have had to purposefully face these things, too. I would have to talk with my children about the reality of the brothel directly in the center of town. It would have been unavoidable, standing on the corner of the main path between our house and the “agora” where the Apostle Paul sold tents, where we would have bought vegetables and linen. I would have to warn them about homosexuality, sexual acts of worship in the temple, and man-boy sexual relationships common to that culture. Having to face these topics really is nothing new… but in recent American history, they have been sometimes treated as best avoided.]

We no longer live in a culture where we can ignore these things. If we do not give our children an understanding of these things, they will almost certainly go the way of our increasingly-wicked culture, or they will face great difficulty in engaging with the oversexualized culture around them that completely misunderstands and wrongly frames these issues. Whether or not we like it, this is the world they are called to “go” to, “love,” “serve,” “teach,” and “disciple.” Additionally, the risk of sexual abuse for those who are unwarned, uninformed, or underinformed, is real. None of these options are good.

Instead, we can be proactive, and give them a biblical framework for understanding themselves and the world. Let’s jump in.

WHAT THEIR BODY PARTS ARE FOR

For little girls, this will include a progressive discussion about the design and purpose of their chests, as well as their genitals. Here are some sample conversation points:

  • Perhaps in the bathtub, when she notices them: “Yes, those are called ‘nipples’ and they are part of your chest; that’s where a mama’s milk comes out after she has a baby.”
  • When she asks why her chest isn’t big like mommy’s: “Right now your chest is little, but as you grow up, your breasts will grow bigger. God made it that way so that if God gives you a baby, you will be able to feed the baby.”
  • And whether she asks or not, this is a simple way to explain her parts: “God made it so that girls and ladies have three different holes. The one in front is where your pee-pee comes out. The one in back is where your poo-poo comes out. The one in the middle is called a vagina– it’s the special place God made for babies to come out.”

For little boys, it’s more straight-forward, partly because everything is “out there” and obvious in a way that isn’t true for little girls.

  • In bathtime/diaper changes, as they notice, name his “penis” just like you would with his nose or belly button. No need to get nervous or weird about it. :)
  • When he asks about his nipples, name them, and explain that his chest will not get bigger like mommy’s– that God has made men and women wonderfully different. “Your chest will not get bigger because you are a boy and will become a man. You have a penis like Daddy. Your body will grow to be bigger and stronger like him.”
  • My boys also find it wonderful and hilarious that they will one day have hair on their bodies. Sometimes I’ll tickle them under their arms, under their chins, and on their chests and say things like, “One day when you’re a man, you’ll have hair on your body like daddy does. You’ll have hair under your arms and maybe even grow a beard!” And we dissolve into giggles and tickles. It’s not something absolute… just another example of how to have these low-pressure conversations that are continually reminding them that their bodies are made purposefully by their Creator.

This happens on varying levels, as they grow and mature, but keep teaching & reminding them. Some of these conversations will come up naturally, and some will be because of things happening in their lives, and some will happen because you are being a purposeful mom and sense that it’s a good time to introduce the topic.

WHO IS APPROPRIATE TO TALK ABOUT THESE THINGS WITH?

You also will want to (multiple times over, especially at first, and then at least a few times a year) remind them:

  • Talking about your private parts is something you only do with Mom & Dad, and sometimes with your doctor. Do we talk about these things with anyone else?”
  • “Noooooo…”
  • “That’s right; we don’t, because these are private parts God has given you for one day when you become a husband or wife. Should you talk about this with brother/sister?”
  • “Nope.”
  • “Do you talk about this in Sunday School, on the playground, or with your friends?”
  • “Noooooo…”
  • Should anyone else ever see, or ask to see, your private parts? 
  • “No.”
  • “That’s right. These are things you don’t talk about with anyone but mom and dad. And if you ever have a problem, like an itchy place or if something’s hurting, who should you ask about it?”
  • “Mom or Dad?”
  • “Yup. Mom or Dad. And then we’ll take a look and make sure everything’s OK. OK?”
  • “OK!”
  • “What should you say if someone else starts to talk about, or asks to see your privates, or wants to show theirs?”
  • “No, and run away.”
  • “That’s right! That would be wrong for someone else to do. And tell Mommy and Daddy as soon as you can.”

Obviously this is not a script. Adapt it to your natural conversational style and the norms of your home. If your child is regularly around grandma, for example, you may want to include her. But in general, keeping it very simple and straightforward is the best way to keep propriety clear in the child’s head.

The (On-Going) Talk// Talking With Your Kids About Sex From Ages 2-5 // jessconnell.com

I can hear the protests now-– “but after we talked about it, my 3 year old yelled over to a random man in the produce department, ‘you have a penis & yours is bigger than mine cause you’re a man but I’m just a little boy!'”

And, I want to say this gently, but here’s the thing… these conversations should all be happening alongside normal childhood discipline, where the child is learning to listen to mom and dad’s instructions and carefully obey. I’m not saying the produce department scenario can’t/won’t happen, but I’m saying that if you have been diligently teaching your child to listen to you and to take your words seriously, then this too will go through that filter. There will be moments where you have to correct, or remind, them so that they remember to keep these things private for discussion with mom & dad, but this is not a major concern for me.

Instead of expecting the worst outcome, prepare for the best outcome, and prevent against the worst outcomes through teaching and discipline. With all 5 of our kiddos that are at/past this age, we’ve had a few relatively minor infractions, but nothing major, nothing memorable. You can help them understand by teaching them, “knowing about how babies are made, and why God has made these parts of our body, is something that is special and private and part of getting older. It’s a special gift from God, and not something we’re to talk about with just anybody.”

They really can learn to keep these things private and for discussion with mom and dad only, if you teach them to do so. Privacy and discretion will become more and more intertwined with their understanding of sexuality as you teach and guide them, over time.

UNDERSTANDING PROGRESSES OVER TIME

When a toddler first asks how babies are made, an answer like, “God puts the baby together in the mommy’s tummy”, may be sufficient. But as that toddler advances into preschool and beyond, questions like these need to be answered more accurately and specifically. The next piece of information may be, “God uses a teeny part of the daddy and a teeny part of the mommy and brings them together in the mommy’s tummy to make a baby that grows bigger and bigger until it’s time to come out.”

If your child can understand the basics of how a building is made, or how a plant grows, they have sufficient understanding to hear and understand the basics of how God uses a man and a woman to make a baby.

The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex From Ages 2-5 // jessconnell.com

Just like anything else, their grasp of the topic will grow as their verbal and mental skills progress. So what starts out small and basic, will over time, grow deeper so that by the time they are adolescents, you will be able to interact about social and cultural issues without much of the “mechanics” playing a part in the discussion. At that point, their understanding of sexuality, pregnancy, marriage, divorce, and topics like these will be framed by what you have taught them and what the Bible says, and so then you will be able to discuss ethical issues and societal struggles without the added pressure of also trying to avoid or having to give specifics about body parts and functions.

THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK & WHAT ANSWERS TO GIVE

With our preschoolers, we talk about these things generally. I say “generally” because this isn’t necessarily the time for detailed anatomical discussions, although some kids may find that interesting and it may be perfectly fine.

In our home, we tend to talk about these things more often because, well, I’m currently 7 months pregnant with baby #7, and the kids ask things each time we have a baby. Questions like these are common:

  • How big is the baby in your tummy?
  • How did it get in there?
  • Do I have a baby in my tummy?
  • Does daddy have a baby in his tummy?
  • How will the baby get out? (Though this one can feel intrusive, it’s really not. It’s an engineering conundrum for this child who hasn’t yet experienced this issue. Give an honest answer: “God made it so that a baby can come out through a special opening between mommy’s legs that gets big enough to let the baby out.”)
  • Does it come out your belly button?
  • Why is your tummy still big even though the baby is out now?
  • Why don’t girls have a penis? (In my experience with both genders, this question is more common than the reverse because one is more visible on the outside, and thus more easily “named” by children.)
  • Why does the baby drink from your chest?
  • Will my chest make milk like that?
  • Does one side make regular and the other side make chocolate milk? (Yes, this was said to me. By a precocious 4 year old, many moons ago.)
  • What does the milk taste like? 
  • When will the baby stop drinking your milk?

Your child(ren) will probably come up with their own unique questions too, whether it’s with your pregnancy or someone else’s. They may even ask the same question multiple times– to gain more information, to gain confidence in what he already knows, or because it has become fuzzy or unclear in his mind. Don’t be frustrated or surprised if you have to explain the same thing multiple times and multiple ways.

And even if they don’t ask, I’ve come to the opinion that this stage (with the lack of nervousness, and intake of so many other pieces of data about how the world works) is the perfect time to give the basics, whether they ask specific questions or not. Just the same way we drive past a new housing development, and naturally begin explaining how the construction process works, and why they build the walls that way, etc., this is a perfectly good time to begin framing your child’s understanding of the woman’s large belly you just passed in Target, or the reason you’re excited that Uncle Joe is marrying his fiance Annie.

Though it’s tempting to shirk off these probing questions, especially the ones we perceive as more personal or embarrassing, these questions provide an excellent opportunity to engage on these topics! 

The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex From Ages 2-5 // jessconnell.com

When we talk with our kids we try to follow these basic guidelines:

  • Keep it in the context of biblical truth. (I often reply with some variation of, “God is so amazing; He made our bodies to work this way…” Now, a word of warning: it can’t ONLY be this sort of “God does it” answer… just like the way a house is constructed, children need physical, factual details as well, but it should always BE in this context, even when more details are shared.)
  • Keep it factual. Our children should have a rock-solid confidence that we will be honest with them.
  • Keep it simple. Answer the question they’re asking. Help them develop a clear framework for a right understanding of these things.
  • Keep it in the context of marriage & family. 

On that last point, yes, sometimes Aunt Sally has a baby without a husband, or they see a teenager who is pregnant. Even then we have the opportunity to frame it in the context of God’s plan for human beings. “God made it so that a man and woman would come together to make a baby as part of a family. While it is possible to make a baby outside of marriage, God’s idea is that each child should have a mommy and daddy in their lives who are committed to them and committed to each other. Isn’t that a wonderful plan? In this case, Aunt Sally is going to be doing this alone, which will be harder for her, and for the baby, but God has a plan for this too. We love Aunt Sally & we will love her sweet baby too! What do you think we can do to help her?” 

RESOURCES TO HELP YOU

Using books and videos can be an excellent way to provide accurate information in a non-threatening and non-awkward-for-parents way.

Here are some I recommend for this age group:

  • The Story of Me (God’s Design for Sex, Book 1) — This book is specifically intended for children ages 3-5. It gives a gentle and very very basic description of how babies are made, as well as basics about each gender’s body parts.
  • The Wonderful Way Babies Are Made — This book offers both a large-text option for younger children, and a more detailed small-text option to read with older children, and gives the basics of marriage, sex, and babies in a biblical context. It also has a section at the end that talks about adoption and how Jesus grew in Mary’s tummy but was adopted by Joseph.
  • For those with a baby on the way and preschoolers who can sit still for documentaries, we’ve LOVED the visuals & explanations in National Geographic’s DVD, In The Womb. This gives an amazing narrative of the growth of human babies inside the womb, and our kids have absolutely been enthralled with it. There is also a corresponding book (also called In The Womb) that our children (after watching the video) enjoy flipping through to remind themselves about the incredible way God grows babies.

As with anything else intended for your child’s consumption, if you have any concerns at all, I encourage you to review these materials first, before presenting them to your child.

WHAT SHOULD I DO TO PREVENT SEXUAL ABUSE?

I decided, after getting this far into this post, that I need to make this topic a separate article. So I will do so in the next article in this series. I just wanted to let you know that I’m not skipping over or avoiding that topic, but rather, it will take more time and space than would be wise to include in this already-much-longer-than-normal article.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT WHY…

While your preschooler may seem far too young to talk about some of these things with, the truth is that he/she is just a few short years away from (unfortunately) having friends with smartphones who may be more than willing to tell them and show them what you will not. And I believe it is actually easier to talk about these things sooner, and to continue the discussion over time, than to delay and end up with one big awkward-fest at the time that their hormones and bodies are changing and they’ve already developed their own sense of understanding (and likely picked up some misunderstandings) of these things. By talking about these things now, you are setting the stage for an on-going dialogue about sex, marriage, and relationships, that can serve them well as they travel through the adolescent years that are rife with temptation and pitfalls.

The goal is to help our children understand the world around them through the framework of God’s plans and purposes for us all. These years, between the ages of 2 & 5, give us a wonderful time to set the stage for future discussions & deeper understanding.

 

 

Images courtesy of: stock images & dreamdesigns/freedigitalphotos

Subscribe to my newsletter, and I'll send monthly encouragement -- full of truth and grace for moms. SIGN UP, SO WE CAN KEEP IN TOUCH:

Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

You may also like...

19 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    So what do you suggest to someone (me) who has never talked about any of this with my kids (and I’m not really sure why) and now they are 9.5, turning 8 in two weeks and 5. They’ve never been overly questioning children, and I always told myself I would just honestly and appropriately answer the questions they ask, which I have done. But the topic just hasn’t come up as much as I thought it would and now I do not know what to do. I never really knew how to just randomly bring it up and I also figured if they were not curious, why bother mention it and saddle them with info they might not be ready for. But now my oldest is a half year away from being ten and I know it’s high time he was told something. So after this big long, not quite making sense ramble, here is my question. How do I bring it up in a way that does not make it seem like we’ve been keeping a deep dark secret from him? I just remember that my mom never told me one thing beyond to expect a period at some point and then when I learned the birds and the bees in school at age 10 I was horrified. Actually I did not think Christians did THAT to get their babies. LOL Anyway, I just want to make amends for the way my husband and I have not really said much and change it into telling them some stuff now in a way, like I said, that doesn’t make it seem like we’ve been pulling the wool over their eyes for years. Any suggestions?

  2. Jess Connell says:

    Thanks for your question, Laura!

    Here’s how I think we would do that: First, make sure you and your husband are on the same page about it. Talk in advance about not being weird, nervous, clearing your throat a lot… body language matters. Don’t make this some big awkward horrible experience. Instead, it should be treated like anything else important and life-affecting… like if you were preparing him to choose his college major, how you would talk to him about the way God made him & what sorts of things he needs to be thinking about. Sometimes in life we purposefully talk with our kids about things, whether or not they’ve come up naturally. So do that with this. But think carefully about going into it with not a bunch of weird awkward vibes. When you really believe that this is a loving, important conversation to have, I believe that will shine through in the way it is discussed.

    So then we’d probably set aside some time with the oldest either after the other 2 are in bed, or make a special “mommy/daddy date night,” and just dive in on purpose.

    “Hey buddy, there’s some things I’ve been wanting to share with you for a while now. It’s some information about the world and why God made us as He did. These are important things that we don’t want you to misunderstand or not know about the world.

    It begins with your body. Now you know that (… list out the things you believe he knows… perhaps body part names, function… that girls and boys are different in that area… keep it simple, but dive in.)

    Part of the reason boys and girls are different is that God has a beautiful design for families. He means for us to be distinctive, so even though girls and boys are equally valuable and important to God, we are different in our bodies and functions. And He has a plan for all of it!”

    At this point I would probably ask something like “have you ever wondered about these things, or thought about why God made us different?” Regardless of the answer, we’d be affirming and then keep plugging along.

    We’d probably read, or consider reading “The Wonderful Way Babies Are Made” or “Before I Was Born.” OR if that conversation ^^^^ ended up taking longer, perhaps because there was not even physical body info on his radar screen yet, or perhaps because of questions or rabbit trails, we’d plan on including books in our homeschooling time that would specifically address it.

    One of the things I’ve done with my older kids is occasionally just throw a health/body book like that into the schooling line-up. We’ll talk about these more extensively in the next age-installment of this series, but FYI- here are some of my suggestions:
    * The Texas Your Body Book (this is a book from the Texas health curriculum that I picked up on clearance. I found it to be a very informative book about body function & design that is at a good level for 4th- to 6th- graders, that approaches things from the perspective of abstinence and waiting for marriage. Perfect for using as part of your schooling curriculum, or as an add-on that can be done in pieces as it seems right.
    * The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU!” This is one that I give my boys around age 9-10 to read on their own, and then we occasionally flip through it together on the couch and just talk about what’s happening in their bodies, and what will start happening as they grow.
    * A similar book for girls: The Care & Keeping of YOU

    Basically, I’d encourage you to start. It doesn’t all have to (and I really don’t think it *should*) be in one conversation. But go on and start. Address body changes first… that’s the most immediately pressing for your son- that in the next couple years, he’ll start noticing certain things starting to change in his body. This isn’t inherently sexual, either. Deodorant. sleepiness, etc. But for us, it’s been important to tie these things in to the larger picture.

    “God is preparing your body so that at the right time, your body will be ready to become a husband and father.” (or wife and mother)

    That’s the big picture. That’s where, if we just talk with our pre-adolescents about body hair and part names, and never tie it in with God’s larger plans and purposes, it can feel disconnected, awkward, and meaningless. It can also feel purely biological, and (ironically) evolutionary. Like, “This is just what’s happening to you, without any meaning or rhyme to it except for adulthood.”

    But that’s not how God works. He works in an orderly, purposeful way that is for our good & His glory.

    So we want to communicate that– God’s good purposes– in how we talk about these things. They are holy & sacred (and thus, private), but not embarrassing and shameful. They are ordered and purposeful, not random and strange. They are good and right in the right context, not inherently *WRONG* or something good people *DON”T” do/talk about.

    The main thing is to open up that line of communication, and do it in a way that (as much as possible) isn’t all gulpy and awkward and looking away and nervous… but is just another part of life that you and your husband are privileged to be able to teach him about. I can tell you, based on what I’ve heard from other families/parents that it feels MUCH MORE AWKWARD before you have this conversation than it will during, or after, the conversation.

    Don’t treat it like a big, dark secret, just like… “you’re getting older and these are things we feel it’s important for you to know so that you understand God’s world and God’s ways in a better way.” Over a series of weeks/months, you can have these conversations from time to time, adding bits of information, clearing up misinformation, and answering any questions that arise.

    Does this help?

    • Natalie says:

      Thank you! Just the question I had, and the answer I needed. I almost cry just thinking about the discomfort of breaching this topic with my oldest son (8). I know it is pathetic, but because of an impure past, I still struggle with seeing sex the way God designed it. That was 20 years ago!!! My husband and I have known we need to open the door of conversation in our home. It literally drives me to my knees to seek God’s strength in doing this. I think the first time will be most uncomfortable.

      • Jess Connell says:

        I’m glad, Natalie! Hang in there. God is in the business of redeeming ugly things and turning them for good. He does it with special beauty when it happens in the context of family and generations. He wants to redeem the wasted years of your past, and mine, and call our children to know Him and walk with Him.

        Let this conversation be had as part of that larger scope, not just biology and facts, but blessing God for His goodness and His plans that extend into eternity!

  3. Laura says:

    It totally does. Thank you so much.

  4. Emily says:

    This is great, Jess! There is an organization started by a woman (who was/is a lawyer and mom) in TX called Bailey Bee Believes that deals with abuse. You should check out her website. She talked to our MOPS group and it was really helpful. She has 5 B’s for preparing your kids to prevent abuse and then a video for parents. I highly recommend it.

    Thanks for tackling this topic that is so uncomfortable for so many parents. When we focus on the way God made us creatively and with a purpose, it makes the whole thing less awkward and by the time your kids are getting into more dicey topics, the lines of communication are already open.

    • Jess Connell says:

      That’s great, Emily, that you were able to hear from someone specifically about that topic. I’ll check her out.

      About 8 years ago, we went through some training about sexual abuse prevention, and we had a follow-up training about 4 years ago. I have really appreciated learning about that issue, and being able to be vigilant and purposeful with our children.

      And you’re absolutely right, that by dealing with the basic engineering/mechanics questions (how does that work? What does that word mean? etc.) then by the time we hit the early/teen years, when we hit real situational/ethical topics, we are no longer dealing with definitions and instead can move on to more intensive Bible study, ethical considerations, what God’s purposes are, what holiness looks like, etc. Handling these things purposefully sets the stage for tackling heart issues (rather than trying to beat around the bush and talk about issues without actually addressing specifics) with our older kids/teens.

  5. Beth says:

    I’m enjoying and appreciating this series tremendously, Jess, especially since I have children (3 girls) aged almost 9, 5 and 1.5. We’ve been open with our oldest about most things, especially when she asks questions–which isn’t a whole lot, but she knows she can come to Mom whenever she has a question. Because we are currently a house of mostly girls (though that may change in January when our 4th is due), we have also been quite relaxed about privacy. The girls typically use the toilet, shower/bathe, dress in front of their dad, and vice versa. The other day we had a conversation about when that is not appropriate anymore. He certainly doesn’t flaunt his body in front of them (covers up ASAP when they are around, but not in a panicky way). I really don’t want my girls to think of their bodies as shameful, but at the same time want to teach them modesty. They have a really good grasp of modesty as it relates to clothing worn outside the home, and if we have guests they would never be immodest in front of them. Perhaps you’ll address this question in a later post, but what, in your opinion, is a good age to draw that line in the home among family members of the opposite gender? Thanks!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes! One of the commenters asked about that last week. I’ll answer your specific question below, but just FYI/to round things out, here was my answer to her:

      Different parents feel differently on this point. Some are comfortable with none, and some are comfortable with more than I am. I can tell you where my husband and I fall.

      I don’t make a big deal about anyone under 4 walking in while I’m changing. But around 4 is when, in our experience, kids begin becoming actively aware of differences and seem to have an innate sense of modesty/sense of wanting a bit more privacy for themselves and others. So around 4… sometimes earlier, sometimes a bit later depending on the kid… is where Doug & I start teaching the child to knock before entering, to turn around and face the wall if they walk in or need to be in the room while we’re changing, etc.

      By 5/6-ish, I definitely expect and enforce modesty & privacy more purposefully. Until then, I’m training toward those things but less serious about it.

      Let me share, too, what has informed our opinions about this, because I’ve seen articles lately on this issue. We have heard enough from young men that still have images of their moms in their bra, changing clothes, in a skimpy towel, etc., well into the teenage years. They are not encouraged or informed by those images; they are grossed out and the images stick with them in a negative way.

      Unlike what some of these articles have purported, I don’t believe my preteen and teen sons need to see my naked form, or my partially-clothed form, in order to form healthy images of what normal, post-baby bodies look like. They hug me tight. They feel that my tummy squishes. They see me in clothes alongside their clothed 14-year-old peers and, ya know, since they have eyes that function, they can easily tell the difference. :) We talk about how men’s bodies grow and how women’s bodies grow, and how God has made our bodies for different things. There is no need for them to see me naked in order to have a “healthy picture” of female form, just as there is no need for them to see porn in order to have a wrong picture of the female form. One day, I pray, their wife’s naked form will be what forms their ideas about health and beauty, and they don’t need my size 14 post-baby frame or a porn star’s size 2 pre-baby frame to form additional images in their minds.

      Phew. I’m apparently more opinionated on that subject than I realized. :)

      But those are my general thoughts. If YOU feel uncomfortable, or when you start to notice that your child is noticing and showing signs that would indicate that greater modesty/privacy should be enforced, those are the sort of signals that preempt our action on that part.

      One other thought: when in my own home, with my own family, I am not a cover-up-while-nursing person. I don’t mind if my sons (even older ones) happen to walk in and notice that I am nursing. They are all taught from a young age that that is one major/important function of the breasts, and that it happens, and that they’re not to stare or make a big deal about it.

      I hope this helps you sort out how you’ll do things in your home.

      In regard to your specific questions, it sounds like you are helping them to come to appropriate boundaries now.

      For me with our older sons (10.5 & 12.5) that has looked like, “keep the door closed when you’re changing,” “your sister never needs to see you in your underwear,” etc. Occasionally I’ll knock and then walk in while one of them is taking a bath because all my toiletries are in the bathroom where the bath is, but even then I knock and ask first.

      I always give them the opportunity to be modest/clothed in front of me, though I don’t think they see it as a big deal. For me, the bigger issue is that they no longer see ME unclothed, which is what I was dressing in the comment I copied and pasted above. If one of them happened to walk in, I’d do like what you’re describing, quickly turn around, wrap a blanket around me, etc. but I do work really hard to make sure that I’m not undressed for them to walk in on (i.e., I keep the door locked now, whereas when they were 3, I didn’t worry about it in the least).

      With our daughter (8.5) and my husband, it was several years ago that I just basically told him, “I don’t think she ever needs to see you even in your undies anymore.” and asked him to make sure he shuts/locks the door, etc., when he’s changing. Shirt off is fine… in our home, the main thing for us is the parts that would be covered by a bathing suit.

      Thanks for the question & I hope this helps you sort out guidelines/norms for your home.

  6. Jessica says:

    So, I am coming in on this quite late, but I found your blog today and have been exploring. My husband and I do not have any children yet, but we are very much wanting to learn and discuss parenting even now and on that note I have a question. My parents were not extremely good at teaching us about these things. I learned 70% of what I know in the month leading up to my marriage last year. While I do wish my mom had taught me more about my body and how it worked while I was growing up, I do appreciate that my mind was not opened to sexual things until I was an older teen, young adult and that I learned a lot of my knowledge from my husband. Yes, I did get exposed to things from TV, ads, etc. (not by my parents doing, but through normal life in this world) but my knowledge and extended exposure to it was minimal until I was preparing to be married. Once I did begin learning more about sexuality and the mans part of it, it was a lot more difficult to keep my mind pure. Because of that (and I know not every girl would be the same as myself and I am not a boy) my philosophy has been that I will be open to my girls about their own bodies (my husband with my boys) and teach modesty at an early age, but I won’t go into specific sexuality or the opposite genders specifics until they are much older. Reading your articles on the subject has caused me to think a little more about my opinions but I’m still not convinced I want to open my children’s minds to those thoughts too soon. We will be homeschooling as long as it is God’s will so I’m not worried about sex-Ed and I want to be open with our friends and family about what we are comfortable with so hopefully working together we can teach our children it is not appropriate to talk amongst themselves on the subject especially if their children know more. What are your thoughts on those things and my big concern about unnecessary exposure leading to impure thinking and knowledge?

    • Jess Connell says:

      I think it is difficult to keep one’s mind pure regardless, because we’re sinful from our mother’s wombs. When one has the answers, one knows more specifics, but one one doesn’t have the answers, they can still do a lot of mental wondering and wandering which can still lead to sin.

      Main point is this: I don’t think information is the reason we sin. Song of Solomon adjures the young: “do not awaken love before it pleases”– but Israelite girls and boys would have already encountered references to all sorts of sexual practices through the annual reading of the law (homosexuality, beastiality among them). Information is not our enemy. Information is not the problem. Simple knowledge of what things are and what purposes our bodies have is not where the real war is.

      I think information and context can actually help us FIGHT sin when we have the Spirit of God within us– it can give us fuel for right choices and hard decisions, because we understand the larger context of the choices we’re making and the biblical foundation, and larger reasons God asks us to live uprightly, in the convictions we have. When we give our children details about why God made our bodies the way they do, and why they function in certain ways, we have the opportunity to frame all of their understanding in the context of God’s design and why they should opt for vigilance and LIFE in their choices.

      If our children don’t have the Spirit of God in them, they have no hope of truly righteous living.

      In my mind, information is not the problem. The inward quickening of the Spirit of God, to enable them to choose rightly and make wise, God-honoring decisions, is what will make the difference between choices that bring life and choices that bring death in this sexual arena.

      Thanks for your comment. God bless you and your husband as you seek biblical thinking in this area. :)

  7. Lisa Tilory says:

    I know this is many months after you began this series… I was wondering how you deal with your sons touching themselves and exploring their own bodies? Our boys are 4, 2&1/2 and 10 months. I find making sure my 4 year old is always dressed really helps cut down on his access. But I know he is getting more curious and I just am not sure what the right way is to handle that. I have read any more of these posts in the series- only they 0-2 and 2-5, have you written posts for the older kids? I am really looking for guidance how you shape your sons thoughts regarding masturbation. Do you bring up that word or let them when they hear of it? Thanks so much!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Well, at this age (2-5), I treat it like any other body touching. Any touching of any part that is culturally inappropriate (nose-picking, penis-scratching, bottom-itching, ear-canal-digging) is something I tell my children needs to happen in this way:

      (1) If there’s something bothering you, take care of it in the bathroom.
      (2) Wash your hands afterward.
      (3) Tell mama or daddy if there’s a problem or question about something going on with your body.

      My experience has been that, at this age, itching/touching is often one of three things: (1) exploration because they’re at an age where their diaper has come off and they “finally” have access, (2) because they need to go potty, or (3) because something’s itchy or feeling funny.

      Incidentally, in regard to #1, I want to warn against bringing adult understandings to childish things. As moms I think we can be overly sensitive about this. The truth is, if we had a wiggly, floppy part on our body that we’d never really been able to see or feel, and all of a sudden it was hanging out there, and we’re old enough to contort ourselves to be able to see it, but only kind of, I think any of us would try to feel it and see what’s going on with that part of our body and what we can learn about it by sight and touch. It’s a part of their body and they’re curious about it. For the most part, that’s what’s going on.

      I do not use the word masturbation at this age. If I noticed one of my sons particularly trying to do that, I’d keep redirecting him, “no no, we don’t touch ourselves on our privates. If you need to go potty, go. If something’s bothering you, go scratch it in the bathroom. If it keeps bothering you, let me come and see it and I’ll see if there’s anything wrong or that a doctor might need to look at. Otherwise, stop doing that please.” (All pleasant tone, no shaming. Just facts of life. Just like, “we don’t go grab snacks whenever we want.” and, “we don’t grab someone’s paper and start coloring on it.” You’re teaching him the norms of life.)

      When we do our 12-year-old Passport2Purity getaway, we do purposefully talk about “masturbation,” as a word and as a general topic. But if there was any kind of concern before that, we wouldn’t hesitate to deal with it, and give it a name if need be. But for us, because it’s neither biblical phrasing (i.e., we use “homosexual” v. “gay”), nor medical (i.e., we use “penis” vs. ding-dong/generic “privates”, etc.), we tend to wait for the actual terminology.

      To be clear, though: at these younger ages, we’ve not had a reason to call it by that name outright, but I’m not 1000% opposed to using it, or something, if I felt I needed to.

      And no. I haven’t done the older ages. They, as you might expect, increase in complexity. And I feel the need to be both biblical and precise. So it makes it a challenge for me to not only take the time to write it, but also muster up both the will and the courage to write the whole picture and do so with both genders, and with clarity. I should do it though. I keep feeling that “should.” Maybe I’ll tackle it for March. :) Thanks for the nudge.

      • Katie says:

        I was glad to find this comment; we’re trying to figure out how to handle this with a five-year-old. I appreciate the advice to treat this like a normal “that’s not how we do things” conversation…what do you tell your sons when they ask “Why?” And how do you deal with a child that uses time alone in the bathroom to explore himself? (Sometimes if he’s taking longer than usual, I’ll go check on him.)

        I want to help him develop good habits without introducing shame, but am not quite sure how to do so. Both my husband and I had limited information from our parents, so we don’t have that to draw on.

        • Jess Connell says:

          Well, the way we talk to our kids about their privates is this:

          “when you are a kid, privates have the purpose of:
          * going potty

          when you become a man/woman, privates have the added purpose of:
          * getting ready to, and helping your body make (and have, if I’m talking to my daughter) children
          * being for your spouse if you are married.”

          Not like I’m giving this lecture all the time, or it’s stale or something, but these are the basic purposes of private parts. I want them to see their bodies in light of the proper purposes. This explanation helps, too, when we’re talking about things like:
          *why we don’t kick brothers in their private parts…
          *and why privates aren’t for display to others (“because when you get sick, a doctor may need to look at it. And when you get married, your wife can see it. Other than that, leave it in your pants.”)
          Having these basic “purposes” in mind is part of a big-picture view of what they’re for.

          Just like hair on a little girl’s head, if fiddled with too much, starts to pull out/tangle, etc. and develops an undesirable habit that can even end up unintentionally ripping out your hair (I’ve known of a handful of little girls who have done this in their sleep & their parents have had to go crazy with working to stop this habit once it’s to that level.)

          — In a similar way, privates, if fiddled with too much, can get UTIs, and it develops an undesirable habit that’s not appropriate, etc., and becomes simply inappropriate and not good for you as a little boy/little girl.

          So when they are little, we treat it matter-of-fact just like that. The “why” is because “that’s not what it’s made for. It’s not a toy. It’s there so you can go potty right now, and (once you are a man, if you get married), have fun with your wife one day.”

          This doesn’t have to be a shameful thing, and honestly, I find it really helpful to pull it out of the “private parts” category for a minute and think about it in terms of any other physical habit I don’t want them to develop…

          * biting their lip
          * scratching at a scab (b/c I know it will develop a scar if they keep picking it off)
          * picking their nose & eating boogers
          * playing with toes in the middle of a conversation with grandma

          Etc.

          It’s helpful for me because the truth is, there’s no shame involved in these conversations. And often, “because I said so” or “because it’s not a good habit to have” or “because we don’t do that in public or in private. It’s simply not a good idea.” would be a good enough answer.

          So we don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, and I think by giving simple, straightforward answers, we can take away the mystique of this and our kids don’t have to see it as a shame-based conversation, but like any other “habit”/physical action we might correct or rein in as a parent.

          Hope this helps.
          ~Jess

  1. May 25, 2015

    […] The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex, from Ages 2 to 5 […]

  2. November 17, 2015

    […] The On-Going Talk (Talking With Your Kids About Sex from Ages 2 to 5) […]

  3. April 23, 2016

    […] THE (ON-GOING) TALK:  TALKING WITH YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEX FROM AGES 2-5 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join my e-mail list & get 30 Quick Fixes (for Tough Mom Days) FREE!

  • Stay connected with your kids, even on the hard days.
  • Get exclusive MOM encouragement
  • Let me help you become the best mom possible!

Enter your name & e-mail address & let's become friends: